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Fangio remembers the IMSA-winning Toyota Eagle MkIII

Submitted by on September 26, 2011

In the mid-1980s to the early ’90s, the IMSA GTP series in America was incredibly strong, with manufacturers involved racing some of the sportscar world’s most iconic and powerful cars: the Porsche 962, Nissan GTP ZX-T, Jaguar XJR-12 and the Toyota Eagle MkIII.

That Eagle from ’92-’93 has so many evocative names attached to it, that it’s hard to know where to start a story. Imagine this as the opening line of a TV drama script proposal: “Fangio, Gurney, All American Racers and Eagle team up to take on Jaguar to win the Daytona 24 Hours with Toyota.”

Far fetched? No, it was true – and the dream went on. The car later went on to win 17 consecutive races, including the 12 Hours of Sebring twice as well that Daytona victory.

One of the drivers, Juan Manuel Fangio II, nephew of the eponymous legend, recalls those years naturally with fondness. After all, he won 19 races solo, plus two long-distance races putting the Argentinian at the top of the all-time IMSA winners’ list.

“The car was fantastic to drive,” says Fangio. “It had excellent balance, and TRD put a really wonderful engine together for this car. The engine was originally designed for low power – 550hp or so – and the guys at TRD were able to reach over 800hp. They worked really hard at it.”

They were up against the might of Jaguar that had the dominant car in sportscar racing in Europe in the late 80s and early 90s. The XJR-12 was the one to beat as soon as it arrived in America in 1992.

“Jaguar won the first quarter of the races,” remembers Fangio. “They had come with a brand new car, an evolution of the one they had won with in Europe the year before. But with the guys from All American Racers, and of course Toyota and TRD we were able to turn that around. We had everything together that we needed to win. It was a wonderful group of people with a lot of knowledge and above all, heart in the cars.

“It was a great time for us,” Fangio continues. “I had been working with Dan Gurney and the same group of people for a very long time. I had offers from other teams, but I felt really at home with All American Racers, Toyota and TRD. It was a family.”

So much so, that when the IMSA GTP series went into decline, Toyota set its sights higher, and AAR, Eagle and TRD embarked on entering CART and ChampCar racing. “We knew it would be very hard work, says Fangio, “and that it would be two or three years before we were up to speed, but I said to myself ‘Well, we did it before, and we can do it again.’” The IndyCar era is a whole new story, but it did culminate in Toyota’s first Indy 500 win.

The dominant IMSA All American Racers Eagle MkIII now has its place in Dan Gurney’s incredible collection, but the AAR story isn’t over yet.

Some familiar names from that IMSA-dominating era will be back in sportscar racing at Le Mans in 2012. Gurney and his All American Racers are teaming with Highcroft Racing to build and run the radical DeltaWing car at the classic 24 Hour race in France. Gurney is no stranger to success: He won the race himself as a driver, with another legend, A.J. Foyt, in 1967.

by Andy Hallbery

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